What are the Reasons which should Deter us from Injuring our Neighbor’s Good Name?
1. He who is severe in his judgment of his neighbor, will in his turn be judged severely by God.
Our Lord says: “Judge not, that you may not be judged” (Matt. vii. 1). “For with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again” (v. 2). “Condemn not and you shall not be condemned” (Luke vi. 37). A monk who on account of delicate health had not been very regular in the performance of his religious duties, displayed great cheerfulness when his death drew near. On being asked the cause of this, he replied: “I have never judged any one, even when I had just cause for complaint; therefore I hope that God will not judge me.”
2. To judge one’s fellow-man is to commit an offense against God, for it is an usurpation of His rights.
“There is one Lawgiver and Judge; but who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?” (Jas. iv. 12.) “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” (Rom. xiv. 4.) Only He Who is omniscient can claim the right to judge others, for the intrinsic evil of an action depends upon the intention of the heart, and that is hidden from man.
3. He who robs another of his good name is often severely punished by God upon earth; not unfrequently he is overtaken by the same calamity which he sought to bring on his neighbor.
A man of evil tongue shall not be established upon the earth (Ps. cxxxix. 12). Jezabel, the wife of King Achab, suborned two wicked men to falsely accuse Naboth, who would not give up his vineyard to the king, of blasphemy. Retribution eventually fell upon her; she was thrown from the palace window, trampled upon by horses and eaten by dogs (3 Kings xxi.). It is now no uncommon thing for the slanderer to meet with the self-same fate which he prepared for another, as the following story shows: St. Elizabeth. Queen of Portugal, had a favorite page, who used to distribute her alms. One of the king’s servants, who was jealous of the large share of the queen’s favor enjoyed by that page, calumniated him to the king, one day when he was out hunting. The king believed the calumny; and going up to a lime-kiln which he .saw in the forest, he said to the proprietor: “Tomorrow I shall send a young man hither, who will ask you whether you have executed the king’s orders; seize him instantly and cast him into the kiln.” On the following morning the king dispatched the queen’s page to the lime-burner with the message agreed upon. On his way thither the young man passed a church, and as the bell was ringing for Mass, he went in and assisted at the holy sacrifice. Meanwhile the servant who had slandered him, curious to know his fate, followed him, as he thought, to the lime-kiln, and on arriving, eagerly asked if the king’s orders had been executed. Almost before he had uttered the question, he was thrown into the furnace. When the queen’s page shortly made his appearance, he was told that the royal behest had been obeyed, and the workmen expected a reward. On his return to the palace, the king was astonished and horrified, and saw clearly that he had been foully deceived. “He hath opened a pit and dug it, and he is fallen into the hole he made” (Ps. vii. 16).
4. He who indulges a habit of detraction is in danger of losing his soul.
The pulse does not always correctly indicate the progress of a fatal disease, but if the tongue becomes black, it is a sure sign of approaching dissolution. So many people are assiduous in their prayers, are diligent churchgoers, and are considered to be pious, but their tongue, wherewith they blacken the character of others, infallibly indicates the mortal disease of their soul. To blast a man’s reputation is a great sin, because his good name is better than great riches (Prov. xxii. 1). It is a kind of murder, because it destroys a man’s life as a citizen, i.e., his social standing, which de pends on the repute in which he is held. It is also sinful because thereby one causes distress to one’s neighbor. The man of honor values his good name above everything. He would rather part with his money, with all he possesses, with life itself, than lose his honor. Hence we may conclude how grievous a sin is detraction. “Railers shall not possess the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. vi. 10). “Detractors . . . are worthy of death” (Rom. i. 32). “Whosoever shall say to his brother, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. v. 22). The magnitude of sins against one’s neighbor depends upon the harm that is done. On account of this, it matters greatly who the individual is who slanders his neighbor; if he be a man of position and respectability, the sin he commits is liable to be grievous, for the esteem in which he is held gives weight to his words. In the case of one who is known to be a tattler, on the other hand, the sin is slight. Again it makes a difference who the individual is whose name is aspersed. The higher his position, and the greater the respect due to him, the worse is the sin. It is but a venial sin to speak against one who has already lost his character. But let the evil speaker beware, for if he has not already fallen into mortal sin, he is on the high road to it.